Unity in Christ

Group of human hands showing unity

May 28, 2017

John 17:1-11

I am going to let you in on a little secret! I get a little uncomfortable when people do not get along with one another. At times, I can just walk away from the situation and perhaps pray for the relationship. At other times, I try to think of ways in which the people that are living in disagreement can come together and live into a unity. An example of unity which is with us from the very beginning.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1:1-5

These verses are familiar. Of course, they come from the beginning of John’s Gospel. These verses point us toward a unity of the Trinity, and a call for unity among all of God’s people. In Jesus is life, and in this life, is a light which shines for who? For all people! In Jesus, many hope for a perfect life.

In reality, we have come to learn that not everything is going to be perfect. We have learned that not everyone gets along with each other. Unfortunately, we have also learned that there is evil in the world that appears at times to overtake us.

In the midst of this, we hear the prayer of Jesus. He has been teaching the disciples for the past few chapters in the Gospel of John and he now concludes this time with a prayer. Jesus has come to the point where he has instilled enough for now with his disciples and his last hour is approaching. The prayer is full of love and compassion for those that he has walked with for the past few years. However, the prayer is not just for the remaining eleven disciples, but all that have picked up their crosses to follow Jesus in his footsteps and those yet to follow.

Our lesson concludes in the midst of Jesus’ prayer, and it leaves us with questions. “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one” (vs. 11).

If we look at the world around us, it appears that Jesus’ prayer has not yet been answered. We are not living as one. Not in the sense that we think of oneness. There is still plenty of division that happens and it can be overwhelming. You name it, humans can and will find a way to divide. The church is no exception. Can you believe that out of the teachings of Jesus Christ, and The Way as St. Paul refers to it, the Christian church has grown to 2.2 billion members. The more surprising fact is that out of those 2.2 billion members, they belong to 41,000 different denominations. Whenever the church has had a disagreement through the years, we decide that we will just start our own denomination. Lutherans are just as much responsible for this. Did you know that in North America alone, there are close to 40 different Lutheran denominations?

How do our actions as followers of Christ lead us to such a split? We have left out the room for the mystery. The mystery that comes to us in the Word, that is with us from the beginning and is in unity with creation. It is an organic unity and oneness. A unity that has been fostered and nurtured from the very beginning of time.

We cannot expect to have the same unity and oneness in our time if we do not foster and nurture it from the ground up. Let’s look at it from the very beginning of a relationship. Two people fall in love and decide that they want their lives to become one. They may perhaps decide to have children and in this the family unit lives together and is one. As a family, they may decide to attend a church or find a place that supports and loves them as they are. From our birth, we continue to grow into our environments. It is here that we seek out love and acceptance. It is here that we look for the unity and oneness that Jesus prays for.

The problem is, we are on this side of the Kingdom of Heaven. We are in a place where the Kingdom of Heaven has not fully come into being. There are struggles along the way. We feel at times that our prayers are not being answered. We cry out to God, asking why we have been confronted with various challenges.  Where is this unity that Jesus speaks of, we wonder?

This is where the mystery gets good! “Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them” (vs. 7). When Jesus prays that his followers may be one as he and the Father are one, he is praying all of us into this mystery too!

It is in this prayer that we can begin to imagine what a oneness in Christ feels and looks like. What if the church could be this place? It is at the cross and in Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension that we are able to behold the great mystery that has been present since the very beginning of creation in the Word. It is here that we come to know and experience the love of God.

By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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